No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #46: procedural generation edition

Last post was #200 on this blog. I'm kind of glad it happened to be my first proper article in a while, rather than yet another newsletter. This blog has been on life support for way too long now -- at least a year if I remember correctly. And if I didn't have a handful of faithful readers I'd just stop posting entirely.

Anyway, this week ended the Procedural Generation Jam 2014, after a most welcome one-day extension. Oh, I was already in, and entries were accepted after the deadline anyway -- all very informal and friendly -- but it was fun seeing how much I could do within the alloted time. Which was less than I hoped, due to lack of energy, but oh well.

But I showed off my entry before. I'd like to talk about the others today.

I'm increasingly worried about the amount of games out there made with Unity, and worse, pretending to be browser-based. Newsflash: the Unity plugin doesn't run in Linux, and if it did, I wouldn't install it. Not after trying for years to get away from Flash. Don't care? Then consider this: you're building on shifting sands -- a proprietary platform that can change radically or become unsupported right under your feet. Moreover, a platform that teaches you to do things one way and one way only. It's easier, you say? Hooray for platforms that make easy things even easier, while the hard things remain hard. Because, you know, they fundamentally are.

Grow up and learn to code.

On the plus side, the jam included a fair number of tools, and more than a few "walking simulators". Clearly there is a market for the genre. I hate to speculate about the reasons, but maybe, just maybe, I'm not the only one out there suffering from gaming fatigue? Perhaps we have enough challenges in real life and we want our entertainment to provide some relaxation for a change?

There are a couple of entries from that jam I want to highlight. One is this subway system generator, simply because it's original and remarkably realistic. (Also because I enjoyed reading the postmortem; wish I could find that much to write about RogueBot.) I can easily see myself using it to make up an entire city for a work of fiction. Speaking of which.

Yes, it's a text adventure, and an old-school one at that. Except one that's procedurally generated, and from a public semantic database, no less! (Yay for academia intersecting with gaming.) The premise is simple: you're dreaming, and things unfold gradually by association. Results are predictably surreal and vague -- just look at the picture on the right versus the text on the bottom. With a bit more polish, it could be just what I need to unwind a little now and then, or serve as a writer's tool, in a way similar to a Tarot deck. So definitely give Dreamer of Electric Sheep a try.

But it's not just the #procjam that ended this week. Another large event was the Interactive Fiction Competition, and by coincidence or not, Emily Short just published a write-up about procedural text generation in IF. Which, interestingly enough, also mentions semantic databases, along with the best-known experiments in the field. Having butted my head against similar issues while working on various roguelikes, I know this research is both hard and necessary.

But these days I've had a hard enough time finding the energy to work on a completely conventional game. See you next week, I guess, with better news hopefully.